ATB: Big Ten Wins Second Challenge in a RowPosted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2010
The Lede. Big Ten Goes Back-to-Back. Maybe the plan is for the Big Ten to win eight more ACC/Big Ten Challenges in a row so as to tie up the all-time record (now 10-2 ACC), but thanks to a strong Tuesday performance where the league went 4-1 against the ACC, the Big Ten did just enough tonight (2-3) to once again crow about basketball dominance for the next 363 days. Well, sorta. As much as we enjoy the concept behind these conference challenges (and this one is clearly the best one), they don’t truly mean much in terms of assessing the relative strength of the conferences. As we mentioned last night, the Big Ten is much stronger than the ACC in its top half, and that’s the half that truly matters when discussing this game we call college basketball. We’re not sure if anyone outside of Iowa City or Winston-Salem cares much if Wake Forest is marginally better than Iowa, but most of the nation cares whether Duke is better than Michigan State (they are) or Virginia Tech is better than Purdue (they’re not). If we were ranking the top ten teams by combining both leagues, it would go something like this: 1) Duke; 2) Ohio State; 3) Michigan State; 4) Illinois; 5) Minnesota; 6) Purdue; 7) Wisconsin; 8) Virginia Tech; 9) Northwestern; 10) Maryland/FSU (?). At the level where the checks are signed, the Big Ten is by far the better league and we’ll stand by that assertion throughout the season.
Your Watercooler Moment. Just How Good Is Kyrie Irving? A common refrain during and after tonight’s Duke victory over Michigan State, 84-79, was that Blue Devil point guard Kyrie Irving was not only the best player on the floor — with 31 pts, 6 rebs, 4 assts, 2 stls and 2 blks — but he might just be the freshman who should have been chosen as preseason first-team All-American and NPOY candidate (instead of the popular pick eight miles down the road, Harrison Barnes). It’s hard to argue with that assessment right now. In two games matched up against elite senior All-America point guards (Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen and Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas), Irving has out-everythinged his more experienced peers. During parts of the game tonight, he simply made his defenders look like they were standing in quicksand as he hesitated and stepped-through the lane for numerous clever finishes. When the MSU defense laid off of him, he calmly sank a couple of threes. When they double-teamed him, he consistently made the right pass to the open man. And this isn’t just one game, either. On the season, he’s averaging 17/4/6 assts , carries a 2.5:1 assist/turnover ratio and he’s in the spectacular 50/40/80+ zone as a matter of shooting percentages (52%/44%/88%). Oh, and he appears to be the best player on the #1 team in America — there’s that too. It’s early, and there’s a point guard named Kemba and a couple of other freshmen named Terrence and Jared who we think are playing just as well or better as the Dookie getting all the love tonight, but without question Irving makes Duke a fantastically dangerous team in ways that they never were with Jon Scheyer running things last year. If the Devils can figure out the big man situation and defend a little better (allowing 49%/53% against MSU is a little disconcerting), they have a chance to become an epic team (but not good enough to run the table, see below).
Upset of the Night. We considered putting Oregon State’s 70-68 loss to Utah Valley in this space tonight, but the Beavers seem to lose to these kinds of teams all the time (see: Seattle, this year and last), so the only other option had to be the biggest win the UCF Knight program’s history over in-state rival Florida. Marcus Jordan (MJ’s kid if you’re new to these parts) had 18 points including a Sportscenter-worthy drive and finish, but the lesson here needs to be that just because a mediocre bubble team returns all five starters the next season, it doesn’t automatically mean that they’re going to mature into a really good team. The Gators are probably better than they were in 2009-10, but are they markedly better — i.e., are they now a Final Four candidate? No way. We’re not sure why people expect these Donovan teams to continually become better than they are — his best teams had a certain toughness that these particular players don’t seem to have. They’re more reminiscent of the Matt Bonner/Anthony Roberson days than the Joakim Noah/Taurean Green days. Until we see a belief in defense and scrappiness again in a Gators uniform, consider us non-believers. All that said, it was a great victory for UCF tonight and certainly something that will be a highlight of their season, but even an overrated Florida has no business losing to these guys.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Michigan State. You’re wondering why we’re putting the Spartans as a hit even though they lost tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium? It was the poise with which they generally played in that tough environment. Even though MSU never had a realistic opportunity to win the game, they were never really out of it either, and they shot the ball very well given the circumstances. Korie Lucious was outstanding off the bench to pick up after Kalin Lucas’ poor outing, and stars Draymond Green and Durrell Summers were also very good. Izzo doesn’t care much about the regular season, but this game will help his squad later this year.
- Mason Plumlee. The #1 thing that Duke needs out of Plumlee this year is to replace the production on the boards (especially the offensive glass) that Brian Zoubek gave them last year. Plumlee tonight ripped down ten rebounds, a season-high seven of which were offensive, essentially giving the Devils the right number of extra possessions to account for the final margin of the game.
- JaJuan Johnson’s Poise. The Purdue big man came through with a hook shot with nine seconds remaining in the Boilers’ game against Virginia Tech that ultimately sent the game to overtime, and later hit the go-ahead goal in the OT to ensure the Purdue win. He went for 29 points on 11-24 shooting, but we can’t understand at all why he felt the need to shoot four threes (making one) tonight. Still, we’re concerned by the lack of offensive production beyond JJJ and E’Twaun Moore — the two had 43 of Purdue’s 58 points.
- The Mountain West. SDSU handled a good St. Mary’s team by 14 points despite a poor night from its star forward Kawhi Leonard, UNLV crushed MVC foe Illinois State by 31 behind a balanced attack, and BYU won at Creighton despite a poor (5-15) shooting night from star guard Jimmer Fredette. Colorado State and New Mexico also notched wins to put the MWC in a commanding 4-0 lead over the Missouri Valley in their battle between the high-mids.
- Emmanuel Negedu. The former Tennessee Vol turned New Mexico Lobo whose heart stopped a little more than a year ago on the UT campus had a great night in a victory against Southern Illinois — 11 points and eight rebounds in only nine minutes of action. We really wish Negedu the best in pursuing his basketball career despite the health risks involved in his play.
- West Virginia’s Casey Mitchell. The senior guard is playing out of his mind right now for Bob Huggins. With 27 points tonight against American, he’s already matched his entire output of FGs for all of last year (43) in only six games this season. He has upped his scoring average by a ridiculous +18.6 PPG over last year (from 3.7 PPG to 22.3 PPG), and he’s also hitting 56% of his shots and 42% of his threes. If this holds up much longer, we’re not sure we’ve ever seen a player explode like this from one season to the next. Simply astonishing.
… and Misses.
- San Diego State’s Introduction. We’re all for firing up the crowd with an inspired introduction of the team, but if it takes 18 minutes for the building to fire back up the lights after the extravagance, it’s probably worth re-visiting the value of it. Luckily, the delay may have put St. Mary’s to sleep, as SDSU ran out to a 14-2 lead and never looked back.
- Malcolm Delaney. We love Delaney but 2-18 at home in a big-time game just isn’t going to cut it. Especially when your team has gacked on all three of its marquee games thus far this season (Kansas State, UNLV and Purdue tonight). There’s absolutely no reason for Seth Greenberg’s team to find itself back on the bubble this year, but if Tech finishes near .500 in the ACC again, they’re going to find themselves back in an oh-so-familiar position.
- Bob Knight’s Time/Score Problem. Far be it from us to tell a guy who has won nine million basketball games, but this is the second time in two years we’ve noticed Knight completely misunderstanding time and score in an end-of-game situation. With Purdue up three at the line with 2.6 seconds to go and another free throw coming, he said: “Maybe miss the free throw and the game’s over with. They have no chance of throwing the long pass if you miss the free throw.” Well, yeah. But they could also take a couple of dribbles with that much time left and throw it in to tie the game from halfcourt. OR… you could actually make the free throw and have a FOUR-point margin instead of a three-point one, rendering the long pass problem Knight seemed so concerned about pretty much irrelevant.
- Sidney Lowe. In a true mismatch of coaching acumen, Bo Ryan made NC State look absolutely foolish in running out to a forty-point lead tonight. It’s certainly true that Tracy Smith is out of the lineup for the Wolfpack, but does anyone out there actually believe that Wisconsin should be forty points better than any ACC team? Would Wisconsin crush the same NC State team with another coach like K or Boeheim? No way. Lowe is on his last legs in Raleigh.
- Memphis. Josh Pastner said after the overtime win against Arkansas State that he was only doing the postgame interview because they make him do it, and that he couldn’t have been more “disappointed” in his players than he currently was. Arkansas State came into this game at Memphis 1-5 by the way. And they’re “coached” by John Brady. Yeah, we understand why Pastner was disappointed. Young players need to have games like these on occasion to learn, though.
- Those Suggesting Duke Will Go Undefeated. Just stop. It’s December 1 and the Devils just beat a good team at home by five points. Many far better teams have lost several games along the way to winning the national championship, and this isn’t even one of Duke’s best teams, much less an all-time group. Sometimes we hate the internet.
Tweet of the Night. Well, they don’t call Durham the “armpit of North Carolina” for no reason…
RTC Live. We were at two games tonight, catching one really good Horizon League battle and another not-so-good intersectional one.
Vanderbilt 82, Western Kentucky 62. A year after Western Kentucky handed it to Vanderbilt on a neutral court in Nashville, the Commodores left nothing to chance on Wednesday night. Four Vanderbilt players scored in double figures, and the host Commodores led wire-to-wire in an 82-62 win in Memorial Gymnasium. Guard John Jenkins was the game’s top scorer with 21 points, and Festus Ezell scored 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting. The Commodores forced the visiting Hilltoppers into 16 first-half turnovers and held them to 40 percent shooting for the game. Forward Juan Pattillo led WKU with 18 points and 7 rebounds. WKU’s best shot came out of the half, when the Hilltoppers opened on a 9-4 run and cut the lead to 13. But Vanderbilt ran back and led by as many as 24 points en route to the win. As a result, Vanderbilt moves to 6-1 on the year, and WKU to 3-4. The Hilltoppers have now lost four of their last five dating back to a loss to Minnesota in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Butler 65, Loyola (IL) 63. Another season, another close loss for Loyola against Butler at home. The Ramblers hung tough, but eventually fell 65-63, almost duplicating last season’s 48-47 loss. Brad Stevens made the interesting decision to foul up three points with 3.3 seconds remaining, but afterward he said that his players had executed the play exactly as he had asked. Loyola was unable to pull off the improbable make then miss and get the tip, so the Bulldogs open Horizon League play at 1-0 a season after they finished 18-0 in the league and went to the National Championship Game. Matt Howard and Zach Hahn both scored 15 points for the Bulldogs while Geoff McCammon led the way with 14 for the Ramblers. Also, Butler freshman forward Khyle Marshall saw his first snowfall and played nine efficient minutes with nine points and six boards.